I can almost feel the bug bites thinking back on summer ’16 but let me tell you it’s a good feeling because of trips like this!
The Cohutta’s are a truly special place filled with amazing rivers, an abundance of wildlife and everything green. It also connects with its Tennessee neighbor, Big Frog, to make up the largest wilderness area east of the Mississippi at just over 40k acres. You may laugh if you’re from the west where there are 250+ larger wilderness areas but here you’ll find more bear than people. So of course I choose this to be my first solo backpacking trip! I was determined to become real backpacker by the end of the summer so I knew that would mean taking some solo trips like this. Luckily I felt prepared thanks to many car camping trips with knowledgeable friends and lots of research. I also have to give thanks to the 20+ Chattahoochee NRA trails that got my legs into hiking shape.
The plan, from backapacker.com go figure, was a 15 mile clockwise loop camping near mile 10. I started at the Three Forks Trailhead located up a steep forest service road. It was there I waved to 2 dirt bikers, the first and last people I would see that weekend.
The hike started on the East Cowpen Trail and shortly thereafter I began questioning how prepared I was but too eager to learn from the bush I trekked on. My baseline was set nice and high on this first backpack. The first 7 miles I followed two ridge lines, one that crests 3,460′ Buckeye Mountain, leading down to Jacks River. Everywhere I looked was green. Look right, green. Left, green. Down at the trail, green. At least I have the blue sky, NOPE GREEN! My present was completely green and I was completely okay with it.
By the time I reached Jacks River I had a new found confidence and was excited to finish the day with a 1000′ climb over 1.5 miles. At the river you can cool off, rehydrate and maybe even see people as the Jack’s River Trail is very popular.
I didn’t come across any people but after the last river crossing I heard a strange noise. It was something like a burp or snort. As I turned the corner a full sized black boar was standing 20 yards away. I immediately whipped out my bear spray and that noise must have startled her as she made another loud snort and ran off in the other direction. The boar was out of sight and I knew I had to go that way so I found a big stick and slowly continued down the trail with my weapons prepared. As I began I noticed 3 feline like animals going up the hill to the left from where the boar once was. Those 3 animals looked to be circling back to me making lots of noise in the process. I couldn’t make out what there were until they were 5 feet in front of me. I really wish I took a picture because they were 3 cute, furry and orange piglets. But me being super flustered and not wanting Momma to come back I swung my stick (not making any contact) to scare them off.
Once they were out of sight I moved forward with my head on a swivel and my bear spray handy. Maybe 5 minutes later I caught up with my old pal and again the boar ran off, this time seeing no piglets. Already thinking ‘oh shit’ I then found out I had a different problem. I knew the trails were narrow but this didn’t even seem like a trail. Well that’s because it wasn’t. At that last river crossing I should have gone left but there was another dirt path on the right and before I could ever look left I heard the boar. I must have gone into a cognitive tunnel but I came to when the trail disappeared. At that point I decided to backtrack staying as close to the river as possible hoping to find the last crossing. I spent close to an hour skipping over rocks trying to find the intersection and man was it a good feeling when I did. The sun would soon set so from there I only hiked a mile to set up camp never seeing another boar. I ate my dinner in roughly 2 seconds then hung everything with an odor up in a tree far from camp.
For the first time I felt somewhat relaxed reading a book in my hammock until I was driven to my tent by insects. It was a long night as I was without a sleeping pad and thought every noise was a blood thirsty bear. When I realized those noises where probably bugs I finally caught some z’s. In the morning the trail became lined with a zillion clear spider webs. I held a thin 5 foot stick in front of me the entire 5 miles and had to shake off a gown of white flowing web about every minute. It was all worth it once I saw that morning light!
As you can see pants are a must here and my red spotted legs could attest to that. Outside of the bugs bites I was very happy and hungry for more. I recently read that you are in your peak optimal performance state when you are doing something just outside of your skill set. Not sure if that was true here but regardless I was hooked.
Thank you, the wild and wonderful Cohutta Wilderness!